After claiming the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last season, CJ McCollum entered the 2016-17 season with the added pressure of proving it wasn’t a fluke. Luckily for McCollum and the Blazers, he was able to once again increase his production, catapulting Portland’s backcourt to the top of the list in scoring output.
McCollum’s 23 points per game—coupled with his elite-level efficiency from the field—nearly put him alongside some of the NBA’s all-time greats. The former Lehigh standout shot an impressive 42.1 percent from the 3-point line, 48 percent from the field, and 91.2 percent from the free throw line, putting him just outside of the 40-50-90 club.
In a league that’s moving farther and farther away from the midrange game, McCollum’s scoring from inside the arc is a revelation for Portland. When shooting from between 10 and 16 feet this season, he connected on over 50 percent of his attempts, proving his legitimacy as a threat from anywhere on the court. McCollum’s ability to score efficiently given his size limitations separates himfrom the rest of his peers, as he finished only behind Seth Curry in field goal percentage for players under 6-foot-4 who attempted at least 10 shots from the field a night.
While normally playing in a complementary role to Damian Lillard, McCollum once again got the opportunity to play the part of leading man this season. With Lillard out, McCollum took complete control of coach Terry Stotts’ offense for a brief five-game stretch in the heart of the season. Though Portland won only two of those five contests, McCollum shined, averaging 31.2 points per game.
McCollum had his best month of the season in January as he rode a wave of momentum from that solo stretch, making fans at least pause when debating the hierarchy of the Blazers’ backcourt. Lillard eventually caught fire after the All-Star break, taking some of the steam out of the McCollum hype-train.
For the second consecutive year, Portland’s backcourt proved they have the offensive talent to contend with any NBA pairing, but the defensive side of the ball continues to be an issue for both Lillard and McCollum. The Blazers posted a 107.8 defensive rating this season, putting them in the bottom-third of the league—a major hurdle for a team with aspirations of seriously contending in the near future. McCollum did a serviceable job defending Klay Thompson in the postseason, however, providing hope for continued growth.
Outside of his play on the court, McCollum was at the heart of one of the more memorable Twitter moments from this year’s NBA season. After narrowly beating the Grizzlies at home, Chandler Parsons took to his social media account to fire back at the Trail Blazers’ Twitter account with regard to an errant 3-point attempt from the Memphis wing. McCollum quickly went on the offensive by mentioning how fortunate Portland was that Parsons decided against coming to the Blazers in the offseason.
McCollum again made waves on Twitter this summer by suggesting that Portland’s President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey pursue a trade involving Indiana’s Paul George this offseason. Even if the trade is unrealistic, it effectively injected some excitement into a fanbase still recovering from a dismal playoff experience.
CJ has proven he belongs in the discussions surrounding the NBA’s premier scorers, and he’ll reap the benefits of that stature next season when his new contract kicks in. McCollum’s salary will jump to $23.9 million next season, a massive leap from his 2016-17 salary of $3.2 million.
McCollum will get back in action a little sooner than his other teammates this summer, participating in the league’s second NBA Africa Game. Portland’s star guard will be playing on the World Team when the showcase takes place in South Africa in August.